Skip to comments.Logging old-growth is a sham issue
Posted on 08/28/2002 12:00:22 AM PDT by kattracksEdited on 07/12/2004 3:56:43 PM PDT by Jim Robinson. [history]
There is little more revelatory to us Washington armchair, journo-politico, all-purpose, television/newspaper, expert, pundit/columnists than actually to talk with a fellow out West who works in an industry we just write about. I recently had correspondence with a man who, right up front, called himself "just a fat old logger now working on a farm." Well, as just a fat old lawyer now working on TV and a newspaper, I liked this fellow right off. I feel more comfortable around people who use ab crunchers to keep the refrigerator door open, and who get a six-pack at the liquor store, not a gym.
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Now we have dense forest--in some places 10X the natural density-- and they go Poof! Thus we have the West's plague of catastrophic wildfires. And we can't even get timber out of the deal.
Are you saying that the lumber industry re-plants too close and are, therefore, the cause of these catastrophe's?
There are a lot of reasons for this density and they vary with the type of forest.
Redwoods, for example, resprout from the root crown. Cut one and you can get 20 growing off of and leaning away from the sides of a rotting stump. Not exactly structural, is it?
Here are some photos (source):
They need thinning, don't they? Contrary to the stories you hear from the fire-retarded, they burn too.
Pines and fir OTOH drop enormous amounts of seed. Their needles are acidic and retard the growth of competing plants. They also suck up the water. A forest of older trees will soon be overpopulated with juveniles as this photo suggests.
That was the Rodeo/Chediski Fire in Northern Arizona.
Clear cutting can induce an even-aged and over-populated forest, as can a fire. It is usual to plan to thin after either replanting or regeneration. If that thinning isn't done, what happens?
Clear cuts are not necessarily a bad thing, although they are ugly. There are occasions where selective cuts cause the trees to fall because each specimen has higher wind load. The phenomena is called "blow-down." How one should harvest trees depends upon the circumstances. That's why centralized control systems like government can't deal with all the competing considerations in management decisions.
Here is a photo of a forest that was selectively logged, again after the Rodeo/Chediski Fire:
Industry plants forests with an expected harvest date in mind, as did the Forest Service. That means they plan a spacing for the trees with perhaps a thinning in between to account for yield on establishment. If one goes beyond that harvest date, an even-aged stand starts to crowd.
The real cause of overpopulation was that the USFS and everybody else was planting for high production. It was a fad back in the 50s and 60s. They succeeded. It was mismanagement then as it is now. If we were to thin the National Forests as they should be, lumber prices could not cover the cost of removals with the current overhead of paperwork. The industry knows that.
Crowded forests are a problem for the entire watershed because each tree consumes large amounts of water. The effect is large. Overcrowded forests dry up streams and destroy fish habitat.
It's a competitive ecosystem out there, locked in mortal competition, something environmentalists don't seem to understand.
The big problems with forests aren't (IMHO) as much related to forestry as they are to the forest ecosystem as a whole. A meadow is nature's first responder to a fire, supplying the seed to cover the bare ground. Meadows, once lost, are difficult to recover. Meadows are a principle store of biodiversity and are also natural firebreaks. Firefighters use them and bring their equipment through loaded with weed seed. Weeds take over them rapidly and the seed from trees that had encroached the meadow sprout and spread further. We are losing meadows in the Pacific region. It's a real problem.
What we are seeing are the misbegotten fruits of the socialization of forests that started in the time of McKinley. The way things are going it WILL get worse. It's a structural problem that will only be cured when government gets out of the land and resource management business.
No. Of course not. I guess this is why this issue is so easily misunderstood.
Wildfires are a natural occurance. Over the many millenia, the forest has adapted and used fire. Some species will not (Sequoia, I believe for one) propagate without the seeds getting the heat from fire to open.
The problems of logging and forest preservation have overlapped and complicated things. In a natural forest, with a "natural" ratio of trees to land, fires are actually beneficial to timber because they eliminate smaller fuels. But for most of the 20th century, fires were not allowed to burn naturally. And, as civilization encroaches, fire is a threat to surrounding properties. So we have huge sections of dense forest which--when fire inevitably comes--are entirely reduced to ashes.
Logging provided some benefit by introducing access roads and thinning forest growth which reduces the overall fuel supply. Clearcutting and replanting, obviously, provides no benefit to a "natural growth" forest, but it became the most economically feasible method of timber harvesting. The timber industry would argue that this practice became necessary by competition from foreign sources of wood.
I'm not sure how much the West can help you with hardwood since most of the forest we're talking about are Redwood, Cedar, Fir and Pine--superb building materials, but not great for cabinetry. I'm not aware of any large-scale Oak harvesting. Most Oak and Madrone (there's a wood you won't find in the east!) cutting in my area is done by firewood vendors.
Over the last six months Sierra Pacific has been completing a private land timber harvest in my area (Nevada County, Sierra Foothills). I see the trucks on my commute. They are pulling some 3 ft. diameter Doug Fir and Redwood mostly. Trucking it 60 miles to a mill in Lincoln.
When I was a kid in this town, there were seven active mills in my immediate surrounds. The loggers took the trucks out before daylight. By 9 at night, you could hear a steady drone of trucks hauling planed lumber down the grade into the Central Valley to market.
The mills put-out a lot of smoke, but they also provided honest work and industry. I have to say, I miss them.